Oklahoma: Twenty-one Quail Management Practices for Landowners

Oklahomans saw bobwhite quail numbers rebound in 2014 to numbers not observed in quite some time. New hunters were introduced to quail hunting, and seasoned hunters took part in a longstanding hunting tradition that had been disappointing in recent years. With the quail season now over and a renewed interest in quail still high, now is the perfect time to consider implementing quail-friendly management practices to continue bringing back the bobwhite.
It's been said time and again that weather and habitat are the keys to bobwhite production. Although nearly all of us would enjoy being able to control the weather from time to time, it is, unfortunately, a variable that is out of our control. Habitat, on the other hand, is something that we manage for on a daily basis, whether we realize it or not. As land managers, knowing what benefits quail and what is detrimental to quail can be the difference between having quail or not.
Sometimes simple measures can bring about great benefits for quail and other wildlife. In general, quail thrive in areas that have some type of disturbance adjacent to native grass, cropland and woody cover. But implementing some type of disturbance isn't the only management practice that can benefit quail. The table below includes a list of quail-friendly practices that land managers may want to consider implementing when managing property this year.
If you have questions about improving habitat for quail, call Scott Cox, senior upland game biologist, at (405) 301-9945 or Kyle Johnson, quail restoration biologist, at (405) 684-1929.
For more information about nesting structure as well as providing other habitat needs for quail in Oklahoma, check out the "Oklahoma Quail Habitat Guide" issue of "Outdoor Oklahoma" magazine (May/June 2013) as well as the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation website at wildlifedepartment.com.
Field Buffers Establish a 10-50 foot grassy/weedy buffer around crop fields adjacent to drainages/woodlands. Field buffers will grow naturally once left fallow.
Unharvested Strips Leave strips of unharvested grain bordering other suitable quail habitat. Wheat, corn and milo have food and cover value and insects for quail.
Cedar Control Cut and remove eastern red cedar from grassland and riparian habitats. Cedars compete with native plants for water, nutrients and space.
Haying Avoid haying waterways or consider haying only every 2-3 years. Waterways are important travel corridors between habitat types.
Crop Field Size Convert large crop fields into smaller fields with grassy/weedy buffers separating each field. Smaller fields increase edge habitat for quail.
Crop Field Shape Convert odd areas of crop fields into native grassy/weedy areas, especially along drainages. Odd U-shaped field areas are perfect for grass/weedy sites.
Pesticides Avoid using herbicides/insecticides within cropland bordering quail habitat. "Weeds" and insects are vital components of quail habitat.
Strip Disking Disk strips at edges of grassy areas, especially near woody cover. Fall and winter disking is best.
Controlled Burning Burn patches or large blocks of idle fields or timber, especially grassy areas with heavy thatch. Prescribed burn associations are available for assistance.
Timber Thinning Thin timber stands that prevent sunlight from reaching the forest floor. Goal should be 50-75 percent of herbaceous cover on forest floor.
Exotic Plant Control Spot spray stands of exotic or invasive vegetation. Exotics outcompete native plants for water, nutrients and space.
Improved Pasture Conversion Convert pastures of fescue, Bermuda grass and yellow bluestem to native vegetation. Nonnative monoculture pastures have very little benefit for quail.
Controlled Grazing Use high intensity-low frequency grazing within areas of heavy grass cover and dense thatch. Light year-round grazing may be appropriate to maintain bare ground component.
Overgrazed Range Alter grazing system to allow for range recovery. Winter burning will help improve range condition.
Mowing Mow strips within large areas of dense brushy or woody cover. Primarily used where native grass and forb habitats are lacking.
Food Plantings Plant a variety of food plants in strips or patches, especially in areas lacking food resources. Use several ¼ to ½-acre plots rather than one larger plot.
Native Grass/Forb Planting Plant a mixture of native grasses and forbs within idle areas lacking native grass/forb component. May require control of existing vegetation prior to planting.
"Weed" Control Avoid spraying herbicides to control native "weeds" as these plants provide food and cover. Native "weeds" are important sources of cover and food for quail.
Shrub Establishment Plant native shrubs within native grassland.  Shrub thickets should be "a softball's throw away" for optimum habitat.
Half-cutting Trees Half-cutting trees within grass/woodland edge habitat provides additional shrubby component. Choose trees with vines as the vines will provide cover and food.
Forest Openings Establish ¼-acre to 1-acre forest openings within stands of timber. A large number of small openings are better than one larger opening.

-Information via the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation